EDF Health

Trump EPA caves again to industry demands on new chemicals, and workers pay the price

Richard Denison, Ph.D.is a Lead Senior Scientist.

Isocyanates are nasty chemicals, including when they are left over as residuals after manufacturing other chemicals.  Here are the kinds of risks they pose, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH):

Isocyanates are powerful irritants to the mucous membranes of the eyes and gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts.  Direct skin contact can also cause marked inflammation.  Isocyanates can also sensitize workers, making them subject to severe asthma attacks if they are exposed again. There is evidence that both respiratory and dermal exposures can lead to sensitization.  Death from severe asthma in some sensitized subjects has been reported.

In prior reviews of new chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act, EPA has repeatedly indicated that “[i]socyanate exposure has been identified as the leading attributable cause of work-related asthma, and prevalence in the exposed workforce has been estimated at 1-20 percent.”

Both NIOSH and EPA have raised even greater concern over activities involving spray application of chemicals containing isocyanates.  In 2006, NIOSH issued a rare alert calling for workers to undergo medical surveillance and wear high-efficiency respirators and gloves when engaged in such activities.

Even in the recent past, when reviewing new chemicals containing isocyanate residuals, EPA has typically (1) issued a consent order subjecting the company submitting the chemical for review to multiple conditions in order to limit workplace inhalation exposures to the residuals, and (2) followed up with a Significant New Use Rule (SNUR) that extends those conditions to other companies, requiring them to notify EPA prior to engaging in any activity that exceeds those workplace limits.  And the only case since TSCA was amended in 2016 where EPA found a new chemical “presents an unreasonable risk” – as opposed to the more common, lower-bar finding that it “may present an unreasonable risk” – involved residual isocyanates present after manufacture of two new chemicals.

In such cases EPA has imposed some combination of three types of conditions on manufacture of such chemicals:  prohibitions on activities that could generate inhalable forms of the chemical and result in inhalation exposures; strict requirements for the use of high-efficiency respirators and gloves; and a strict limit on the amount of isocyanate residuals allowed to be present in the new chemical, typically in the range of 0.1% to 0.2%.

So it is quite disturbing to see how EPA has dealt with the most recent such new chemical for which EPA has issued its final decision – which requires that companies employ NONE of these protections.  Read More »

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ACC and 1,4-dioxane: Its “late hit” tactics are just more of the same

Richard Denison, Ph.D.is a Lead Senior Scientist.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) was up to all of its old tricks yesterday at the first day of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) panel that is conducting a peer review of EPA’s draft risk evaluation of the likely human carcinogen, 1,4-dioxane.  We blogged last week about the extensive comments EDF submitted to the peer review panel on this flawed assessment.

Yesterday ACC rolled out the same game plan the industry has used for years to slow down, derail, or obfuscate chemical assessments conducted by EPA’s Information Risk Information System (IRIS), and more recently, the last Administration’s effort, now aborted by the Trump EPA, to restrict high-risk uses of the highly toxic chemical trichloroethylene (TCE).

In the public comment period yesterday afternoon, ACC Senior Director Steve Risotto revealed to the peer review panel that ACC has sponsored a new “study” that he says – lo and behold – supports all of the positions downplaying 1,4-dioxane’s carcinogenicity that ACC has espoused for years.

The aim of this is to get EPA to set the level of exposure to 1,4-dioxane that would be deemed acceptable well above the level EPA would set if 1,4-dioxane is assumed to pose a risk at any level of exposure.  (Briefly, if EPA determines that 1,4-dioxane does not have a safe threshold, it must extrapolate exposures to zero to set acceptable risk levels in its risk evaluation. If, as ACC wants, EPA finds that there is a threshold below which exposure poses no risk, then the Agency’s risk calculations will be much less conservative.)

So, where is ACC’s new study?  Well, it’s not public.  It hasn’t been provided to the peer review panel.  It hasn’t been published by ACC.  There’s no indication it’s been peer-reviewed.  Read More »

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The Trump EPA is setting back chemicals policies by decades

Richard Denison, Ph.D.is a Lead Senior Scientist.


Tacoma, WA 1972

As we approach the third anniversary of the historic passage of bipartisan legislation to overhaul our nation’s broken chemical safety system, we’re hearing that political appointees at the agency are gearing up to celebrate their “successes” in implementing the law.

Even more disturbing than its individual actions are the methodical steps the Trump EPA is taking to dismantle decades of progress in our country’s chemicals policies.

While the chemical industry may well have things to celebrate, it’s simply not the case for the rest of us:  Comments from former top EPA officialsmembers of Congressstate and local governments, labor groupsfirefighterswater utilitiespublic health groups, and a broad range of environmental groups make crystal clear that there’s nothing warranting celebration.  EPA’s actions are threatening the health of American families.

But as I reflect on how implementation of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) has gone off the rails under the Trump EPA, even more disturbing than its individual actions are the methodical steps it is taking to dismantle decades of progress in our country’s chemicals policies.  In this post, I’ll briefly highlight five such policies and how this EPA is undermining them:

  • Pollution prevention
  • Inherent safety and hazard reduction
  • Protection of vulnerable subpopulations and environmental justice
  • Holistic, real-world risk assessment
  • Public right to know

Read More »

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Company safety data sheets on new chemicals frequently lack the worker protections EPA claims they include

Richard Denison, Ph.D.is a Lead Senior Scientist.

Readers of this blog know how concerned EDF is over the Trump EPA’s approval of many dozens of new chemicals based on its mere “expectation” that workers across supply chains will always employ personal protective equipment (PPE) just because it is recommended in the manufacturer’s non-binding safety data sheet (SDS).

How much farther under the bus will the Trump EPA throw American workers?

The typical course has been for EPA to identify risks to workers from a new chemical it is reviewing under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), but then – instead of issuing an order imposing binding conditions on the chemical’s entry onto the market, as TSCA requires – to find that the chemical is “not likely to present an unreasonable risk” and impose no conditions whatsoever on its manufacturer.  This sleight of hand is pulled off by EPA stating that it:

expects employers will require and workers will use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) … consistent with the Safety Data Sheet prepared by the new chemical submitter, in a manner adequate to protect them.

We have detailed earlier the myriad ways in which this approach strays from the law, is bad policy and won’t protect workers.  But here’s yet another gaping problem:  When we are able to look at the actual SDSs – that is, when EPA has made them available and when they are not totally redacted – we are frequently finding that the specific PPE that EPA claims to be specified in the SDSs – and that EPA asserts is sufficient to protect all workers handling the chemical – is not in the SDSs.   Read More »

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PART 3: Busting more industry-perpetrated myths about new chemicals and worker protection under TSCA

Richard Denison, Ph.D.is a Lead Senior Scientist.

Part 1          Part 2         Part 3

I have been blogging in the last few weeks about myths the chemical industry is perpetrating about the adequacy and legality of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent reviews of the risks that chemicals just entering the market may present to workers.  In this post, I address another such myth that, unfortunately, EPA has swallowed hook, line, and sinker.  This myth was laid out by one of the industry witnesses at the March 13 House Energy & Commerce Committee hearing on EPA’s failures to protect workers from chemical risks.

One wonders when EPA will start doing what Congress told it to do, first in 1976 and then again, with renewed vigor in 2016:  Protect workers under TSCA – using TSCA’s authorities to meet TSCA’s health standard, not OSHA’s.

I’ll get to this third myth in a moment.  But let me first try to crystallize what is at stake in this debate.  While the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) has always given EPA authority to regulate workplace risks, the 2016 amendments to TSCA strengthened EPA’s authority and mandate to protect workers.  TSCA now expressly identifies workers as a “potentially exposed or susceptible subpopulation.”  See the definition of that term in paragraph 12 here.  TSCA then requires EPA to identify and assess potential risks to such subpopulations when reviewing both new and existing chemicals.  Finally, it requires EPA to use its TSCA authorities to impose restrictions on any chemical found to present an “unreasonable risk” – which is TSCA’s health standard – to any such subpopulation.

In a word, TSCA requires EPA to protect workers under TSCA – using TSCA’s authorities to meet TSCA’s health standard, not OSHA’s.

Both before and after the 2016 TSCA amendments, the chemical industry has sought to compel or convince EPA not to regulate workplaces under TSCA, and instead to defer to OSHA.  Industry wants this because OSHA’s authority and capacity are severely limited and its legal requirements for regulating toxic substances (“health standards” in OSHA parlance) allow vastly greater risks to workers than do TSCA’s (see my previous post).

Sadly, under the Trump EPA, industry is getting its wish.  At industry’s urging, EPA is acting in a manner that is wholly contrary to TSCA – and is less health-protective than even under TSCA before the 2016 reforms.

Now let’s get back to more myth-busting.   Read More »

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PART 2: Busting more industry-perpetrated myths about new chemicals and worker protection under TSCA

Richard Denison, Ph.D.is a Lead Senior Scientist.

Part 1          Part 2         Part 3

This post shows why the chemical industry has been so anxious to convince EPA to defer to OSHA rather than regulate worker risks from new chemicals under TSCA.

I started blogging last week about myths the chemical industry is perpetrating when it comes to EPA’s review of the risks new chemicals may present to workers.  In this post, I address another such myth, one that the industry promotes to argue why the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can and should defer to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in addressing the risks posed by new chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  This myth was on full display at last week’s House Energy & Commerce Committee hearing on EPA’s failures to protect workers from chemical risks.

Myth #2:  OSHA regulations provide ample protection of workers from any exposures to new chemicals EPA is reviewing under TSCA.   Read More »

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